Spring has sprung, albeit a bit early in Texas this year. The azalea bush outside the window has bloomed and gone as I write this.
And while young men’s thoughts may turn to love as the weather warms, my thoughts turn to lamb, fresh asparagus, shrimp and greens. My white blooms may be gone, but there are still plenty of tastes of springtime. One has only to cruise the farmers markets or peruse the new spring menus popping up like bluebonnets at area eateries. Say so long to root veggies, hearty stews and winter blues. Now is the time for fresh and light meals.
While young men’s thoughts may turn to love as the weather warms, my thoughts turn to lamb, fresh asparagus, shrimp and greens.
At the new Katsuya by Stark, the crowd and the décor may be sexy but the food is just plain tasty. Start with a beyond fresh cocktail of rum and muddled watermelon and cucumber that tastes like spring break in a glass. And while the sushi and sashimi make for a light spring meal, chef David Coffman has a special spring dish.
“The kiwi scallops with vinaigrette,” Coffman says. “The pop of kiwi is just very light and interesting.”
For some folks, it’s not Japanese food that says spring, but more like Chinese takeout.
“I started thinking ‘how do you turn Chinese takeout into gourmet comfort food?’ and that was the starting point for our spring menu,” explains chef Michael Pellegrino of Max’s Wine Dive. Hence the foie gras spring rolls and the fried chicken liver lettuce wraps.
“It’s about turning from heavy, braised dishes to light and colorful ones,” Pellegrino says of spring menus.
And there are certain iconic dishes that just scream spring and the coming summer. Things like deviled eggs, sandwiches and apple pie. All of which you’ll find, sort of, on Max’s new menu.
“The sweet bay scallops baked with mustard really look like deviled eggs and seafood is great this time of year,” Pellegrino says. And, as a self-professed sandwich man, the chef has also added a Rueben with Angus pastrami, sauerkraut and Vermont maple aioli wrapped in a Slow Dough Bread Co. rye waffle. Now that’s a sandwich for a spring picnic.
And as for the apple pie, Max’s serves up a slice in a glass with Fat Cat Creamery cinnamon ice cream layered with apple confit, piecrust shards and apple cider caramel.
Over at Triniti, which just won the AIA Houston 2012 Architect Award for Best Renovation/Restoration, the stable of chefs takes spring foods so seriously they shut down the restaurant for its own spring break to totally revamp the menu, focusing on fresh, seasonal ingredients.
“The new menu has a lighter hand,” says executive chef Ryan Hildebrand. “We’ve shifted over to less manipulation of the food. Spring is about letting vegetables be vegetables, letting them sing on their own and not roasting them as much as we do during the winter.”
Main dishes include veal, duck and Alaskan halibut, which has been the number one seller so far. It’s a light dish with tarragon, white polenta, clams and asparagus.
“I probably wouldn’t be able to live without asparagus,” laughs Hildebrand. “I use it in a lot of dishes on the spring menu.”
“In springtime everyone’s thinking about summer coming up and they have to get into a bikini,” says chef/owner Ronnie Killen of Pearland’s Killen’s Steakhouse. “So we put lighter items on the menu."
And, while steakhouse fare can be pretty standard, it still needs a little sprucing up for spring.
“In springtime everyone’s thinking about summer coming up and they have to get into a bikini,” says chef/owner Ronnie Killen of Pearland’s Killen’s Steakhouse. “So we put lighter items on the menu, grilled fish and housemade pastas.”
There’s also a new mesquite barbecued bone-in short rib with chipotle orange glaze, sweet potato puree and braised collard greens.
“I usually sous vide the short ribs, but my first restaurant was a barbecue place so I like to do some barbecuing this time of year,” says Killen. “And the sweet potato puree is lighter than mashed potatoes. We really try to lighten up the sides.”
Which isn’t too hard since Killen’s Steakhouse has its own garden out back, which this time of year is overflowing with micro greens, kales, snap peas and carrots.
“The carrots are just crazy right now,” Killen says. “I love carrots, you just have to know how to cook them so they keep their sweet flavor.” And sous vide would be his preferred way.
“We may be a steakhouse,” he adds, “but we love our garden. We’ve added a beet salad, a tuna dish with Meyer lemon risotto and an arugula salad that really doesn’t even need any dressing with it. It’s so good and fresh I get excited just thinking about it.”